Our Friend Jason
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
By Auriane de Rudder
“Ugh, I just am so sick of this whole hookup thing,” I sipped on my mandarin Gimlet and stared up at the illuminated screen above the bar. Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since you Been Gone’ was blaring in another pop video montage. “That’s gonna’ be a hit,” I pointed.
“She seems sorta’ basic to me,” Jason replied, Very Midwest. But you never know. I guess anything can happen.”
A few pretty young things came and greeted Jason at the bar, both under 25 with deep chocolate skin and perfect six pack abs. Both were in their underwear and topless.
“Boys, this is Auriane. Auriane this is…”
“I’m Terell,” one man outstretched his hand and daintily shook mine.
“I’m Miss Jhene,” the other introduced herself, her lip-gloss a glittery pink, and a small tiara perched on her head, “Oh wait, don’t you work here?” She asked.
“Yep, just up here in the Video Bar mostly. Disco on Goth night,” I answered.
“Ooh, there’s so many straight boys on Goth night!” Miss Jhene beamed.
“Eh, straight-ish,” I said.
“I know, right?” Jhene laughed, “Anyway,”
“We’re doing the Wet Underwear Contest,” the two said in unison.
“Be there, darling,” Miss Jhene leaned over and kissed Jason on the cheek and slid a small bag of cocaine into his hand, winking at me.
“We’ll try to meet you. Right now I’m giving Auriane love advice,” Jason replied.
“Well, either way, so very nice to meet you,” Terell kissed me on the cheek. Jhene did a little curtsey. The two left the Grand Central’s video bar together and headed downstairs to the Disco.
“Those two are hot,” I said, “Talk about body-ody-ody.”
“They’re great. And they have good coke. Double whammy,” Jason looked up from inspecting the little plastic baggie, “Bathroom?”
(Photo by Ed Gunt)
Grand Central had a total of four bars under one roof. There was the Pub, the Disco, the Leather Bar and the Video Bar. The Video Bar was the slowest bar in the complex with a locking, unisex bathroom. It was a great haven for all kinds of people to buy, sell and use drugs, as well as go to the bathroom (and exist) without having to gender-identify in the process. Really, the Video Bar was ahead of its time. As Jason hoovered down a few lines in the only bathroom stall, I washed my hands and lamented about my pathetic love life.
“There was the one guy who actually kept asking me out, but then I lose weight and he’s gone. Like, totally gone,” I stated loudly enough for Jason to hear over the thumping Circuit House.
“Ah, a Chubby Chaser. Well, NEXT,” he replied.
“And there’s plenty of guys at school, but all they want to do is hook up. Like come over, my Netflix came in the mail…And I’m clearly not gonna’ find anyone working here,”
“Right, like, hello, buy me dinner first, also no Goths. Sorry, but no.” Jason said, punctuating his reply with a few sniffs.
Jason exited the stall.
“Did you do the whole bag?” I asked, impressed.
“It was short. Good, but short,” he said, raising an eyebrow at me, and tossing the remnants of the bag my way, maybe two bumps, “Look, Auriane. Guys are gonna’ try to get sex as easily as possible. That’s just nature,” Jason started.
“I know that but—" I was fidgeting my car key into the baggie.
“Don’t interrupt. Look at me. I have guys I treasure, guys I befriend and guys I call to simply fuck. And I didn’t label these men. They labeled themselves by how they interact with others,” Jason was meticulously washing his hands and checking his reflection in the mirror.
“Okay, yes, agreed,” I finished the last of the cocaine and turned with Jason as he took my arm and triumphantly pushed the bathroom door open, hard, and let the booming music once again fill the room. We stepped out into the bar, the cheap lights twinkling, the room more alive now than ten minutes ago. A few Trans people sat quietly sipping their drinks as Kylie Minogue danced in an all-white hooded outfit on the screens above.
“I just had a fabulous idea,” Jason said excitedly.
“Kylie Minogue dance party?” I asked.
“No,” Jason rolled his eyes.
“Wet Underwear Contest?” I assumed.
“No. I mean yes, of course, but no. Let me take you on a date!”
“Ha, sure, yeah like we always do?”
“No, a real date. Let me show you how it should be done. The people getting dates, it’s because they expect a date. They would never settle for less, and it shows. Let me take you on a date so you have a marker for what is to be expected. Like a blueprint for men to follow. Straight guys are into things like blueprints, right? Trust me, it’ll be fabulous!”
“I’m in no position to turn down a free dinner,” I replied.
“Yes! And we’ll go somewhere healthy so that tragic Chubby Chaser doesn’t try and come back,” Jason smoothed his well-manicured chinstrap goatee, “Now… Disco?”
Jason and I watched as a handful of beautiful young gays competed in the Grand Central Station Wet Underwear Contest. Each contestant stood, in a pair of tighty-whities in a kiddie pool on the Disco stage. The host, a cute blonde friend of ours named Greg, would announce each contestant, and then gently pour warm water into their underpants. The contestant would do a little dance, and show off their…well, their dicks, mostly. Jason and I cheered loudly for Terell and Miss Jhane, but as usual the twinkiest white boy won again. I called it a night, and left Jason and Terell to walk a few blocks home to my Mount Vernon apartment on Cathedral Street.
As I walked, I clutched my keys in my fist for an air of protection, nodding and smiling to the Trans prostitutes perched on each block. There were two groups in my neighborhood, the Pink Stars and the Blue Stars. They were rival gangs, but both sides frequented Grand Central, especially the video bar. We were friends in that bartender/patron/don’t be a NARC kind of way, and they were protective of me when I walked home. I appreciated them immensely. Baltimore is dangerous. It’s good to have friends.
Our date was exceptional.
Jason picked me up at dusk, and rang my buzzer. He waited patiently for me to wing my eyeliner and come down a few minutes late. He stood with a beautiful bouquet of pink and white Peonies in his arms, dressed in an ecru linen suit perfect for the humid, August night.
“Oh, should I run back up and put these in water?”
“Don’t bother. We can make a big deal about putting them in water at the restaurant and show off a little,” he told me, putting his arm in mine.
We walked a block to his car, a Lexus that he had cleaned for the occasion. He opened my door, and put on downtempo Chicago House music at a low level.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Ready.” I smiled, holding the pretty flowers in my lap.
We arrived at Helen’s Garden—a quaint but Zagat reviewed boutique restaurant in Canton Square. Canton Square was mostly restaurants, bars and boutiques surrounded by charming red brick row homes. It was a more expensive part of the city, and predominantly straight.
“This is the kind of place I would expect a straight guy to take me,” Jason said, gesturing for me to have a seat at our private patio table, “We’ll start with the bottle of Chardonnay, please,” Jason smiled at our waiter, “Oh, excuse me,” he added, “I’m sorry, but we need a carafe of plain water as well.”
“Yes of course,” the waiter turned to leave.
“No, I’m sorry, not for drinking,” The waiter looked puzzled, “The lady needs something to keep her flowers fresh, please. So maybe two carafes. Thank you so much,” Jason was being genuine, he didn’t sound like a dick at all.
“This place is adorable,” I told him, leaning over the table.
“And it’s delicious. Do you have any preferences or restrictions? I’ve been here a handful of times and if you’ll let me, I’d love to order for you.”
“I trust you,” I beamed, looking around the well curated patio.
Jason ordered a grilled Caesar salad and too many small plates to count or recall. We feasted on tapas and finished two bottles of great Chardonnay. Jason asked me typical first date questions. He wanted to know where I was from, what I was in school for, even though he knew all of this already.
“It’s practice. A good guy should ask you these things. If he doesn’t show interest, walk out,” he advised.
“Dessert?” Our waiter asked.
“We couldn’t possibly,” I told him.
“No, we will. The raspberry crème brulee, please,” Jason added, “Even if we only take one bite, it’s too good to miss.”
We wrapped up dinner and went back to Mt. Vernon. Jason walked me to my door, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I clutched the carafe of flowers to my chest. Jason had tipped extra to keep it.
“Alright, no more bad dates, right?” he said as I opened the heavy, antique front door to my building.
The next morning, I woke up early. I made coffee, and after opening a few windows and scrubbing a few dishes left in the sink, I checked my phone. I had two texts.
One, was from Eddie. Eddie was older than me. We had started hooking up when I was 16, nothing very serious, just playful make-outs. I was now 21, and we had slept together a handful of times. Eddie was a photographer, which made him seem romantic but actually he was just emotionally unavailable. I read the text.
“want to see you.”
The other text was from Jeremy. Jeremy and I were more involved, but he was unreliable. He had a way of showing up just when I had grown tired of him not showing up; that manipulative sixth sense that tingled when a girl was ready to move on. He was mysterious, troubled and sexy. He was also not very nice to me. I read the text.
“What are you doing for your birthday?”
Eddie’s text was clearly a booty-call, but Jeremy might actually want to do something for my upcoming birthday. I thought about responding, the text cursor blinking at me like a countdown.
“I’m not sure yet…what do you have in mind?” I waited.
“We should chill.”
I looked around the room. I looked at the photos of friends on the fridge, and the pretty paintings set above the antique cabinets in the kitchen. I thought about a response. I then looked over to the kitchen table. There were Jason’s Peonies. I tossed the cell phone in my purse—text messages unanswered—and started to get ready for class.
“No more bad dates…” I said out loud.
“What the fuck are you doing?!” I yelled, watching Jeff empty my suitcase out of his second story window, my summer dresses floating down onto Charles Street, “Are you goddamn actually crazy? What the fuck!”
“Crazy, yeah I’m the crazy one,” he spat back, “Who comes all the way here just to say you don’t want to be here? You can get the fuck out!” He yelled.
“Fine! Fucking fine you insane person!” I said, grabbing my keys from the kitchen counter and slamming the door behind me.
I raced down the stairs, hoping to rescue some of my dresses from the traffic below. Charles street was busy and I was sure my outfits were being destroyed. I flew out of the building in a panic. Cars were smashing some of my all-time favorite looks. A few of my items had drifted into trees and planters lining the streets, I ran over and started to stack them over my forearm.
“Probably covered in dog piss,” I muttered to myself as people walking by laughed and gawked.
There was a red light at the intersection across from Jeff’s apartment, and I took the brief moment to run and grab other scattered pieces of my wardrobe from in between cars. The light changed and people honked rudely for me to get out of the way. I started to cry.
“Oh my Godddddd…” I heard from a nearby car, “Auriane de Rudder what in the Hell are you doing out here?”
I looked up to see my friend Jason. He put on his hazard lights, and got out of the car, ignoring people honking behind him.
“No, no, no. What is this? What is all this?” he asked, pawing at the ruined clothes I held, “And are you crying? I thought you moved to Chicago? What is going on?”
I burst into tears, harder this time. Just as I did, Jeff threw my purse from the window.
“Fuck you!” he yelled as the bag landed on the sidewalk and burst open, my wallet, money and tampons strewn for everyone to see, “I hope I never see you again!”
Jason hurried over to the bag, and quickly shoved everything inside.
“Get in the car, right now,” He ordered, “Fuck you, asshole! Do you know how expensive her dresses are? Fuck you!” Jason yelled up at Jeff’s window, now shut.
Jason drove us in silence for probably 15 seconds. It seemed longer. I just stared out at the city streets, watching as we drove from Mount Vernon into Charles Village.
“I have some errands to run, but clearly you can’t go back to whatever that was,” He said gently, turning off of Charles Street and pulling up to pretty row home, “Stay here, I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Okay,” I sniffled.
Jason popped open the glovebox and pulled out a pack of tissues, “Here,” he said, placing them in my lap, “Don’t worry. We can hang out all day. When I’m done with my errands we can brunch or something.”
Jason walked from the car and into the home. I stopped crying to assess what I had saved from Jeff’s freak-out. All of the clothes were ruined—to some degree—either by tears or tire marks or general street grime. My wallet was intact, and I had my keys—both a set to my apartment in Chicago and a set to Jeff’s apartment in Baltimore. I did not have my cell phone. When I realized this, I again started to cry. Jason stepped out of the row home, tucking something in his inside jacket pocket. When he saw I was crying again, he walked faster, and broke into a jog toward the car. He opened the door, and sat down, exhaling a loud exhale.
“So, should I even ask what happened?” He asked.
“He…he has my phone. I can’t call anyone. I don’t even know who to call. He was supposed to drive me to the airport tonight.”
“What kind of phone?” Jason asked.
“It’s just a Nokia. It’s cheap.”
“Okay so you can just get another one. We’re not going back there, right?”
“Right,” I nodded, wiping away my tears in his passenger side mirror.
“I can drive you to the airport. What time is your flight?”
“Not until 8:30,” I said.
“Fabulous. We have all day together,” Jason smiled, “Okay I have two more stops and then I’m all yours.”
We drove through the city, making two stops- one in a sketchy part of the West side I didn't recgnize and another on North Avenue near the Station North Arts building. Jason also made a quick stop at his apartment in Bolton Hill. I stayed in the car the entire time, slowly regaining my composure, grateful that Jason had appeared when he did.
“Okay. Errands are done. I was supposed to meet my mother for brunch, but I can reschedule if you’re not feeling up to meeting her right now.”
I had never met Jason’s mother, but I knew they were very close. He always spoke of her glamour and poise and her fantastic head of thick, blonde hair. I had seen a picture once on Jason’s fridge. Daria had perfectly manicured French tips, wore a huge diamond ring and had a bright, white smile. I was dying to meet her.
“I’m in. Do you think I look okay?”
Jason looked me over. His gaze narrowed and he tilted his head slowly from side to side. I had no makeup on and my hair was in a sloppy bun. I was wearing a loose boatneck t-shirt and leggings. The argument between Jeff and I had erupted well before my 10 a.m. shower. I watched Jason assess me. I pulled out a tube of red lipstick from my purse. I put it on and shrugged.
“Perfect,” he said, and he meant it.
Jason passed away from a stroke on February 11th, 2020. We hadn’t seen each other in years. The news sent everyone who loved him into a spiral of shock and sadness. We all imagined, no matter how long it had been, that we would share a cocktail and a charming evening with Jason again. While I know I can’t do that now, I have faith that it’ll happen someday, in the unknown. And I have faith that Jason will recommend the very best martini bar as soon as I get there.